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In a pandemic, humor is as valuable as toilet paper. | COMMENTARY

The Anne Arundel County Public Library posted a sign for the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library that misspelled the name of the late House of Delegates speaker. It has since been covered up.
The Anne Arundel County Public Library posted a sign for the Michael E. Busch Annapolis Library that misspelled the name of the late House of Delegates speaker. It has since been covered up. (Courtesy Photo)

Charles Dickens wrote that good humor was “irresistibly contagious.” Robert Frost once observed: “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” Lord Byron suggested that we laugh when we can because it’s “cheap medicine.” It doesn’t take an ageless writer (or even a particularly good one) to see how humor and health go together. But laughter and leadership seem to have a relationship, too, especially in a time of crisis. Winston Churchill was famous for it. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, both wartime presidents, are also remembered for poking fun even in the midst of a full-blown crisis. After being shot in an attempted assassination, President Ronald Reagan famously told his wife Nancy, “Honey, I forgot to duck,” and later, after being wheeled into the operating room, instructed his surgical team, “I hope you’re all Republicans.”

The importance of finding funny despite living in some highly unfunny circumstances seems all the more important these days as Americans enter their fifth or sixth or possibly millionth week of lockdown. We’ve already lost track. And, as if to underscore the point, comes word that the Anne Arundel County Library’s Annapolis branch, as part of a $24 million renovation and expansion, recently veiled, rather than unveiled, their monument honoring the late House Speaker Michael E. Busch after it was discovered the sign makers etched out e-before-a “Micheal” instead of a-before-e “Michael.” The sign was covered up as soon as the mistake was spotted on Thursday, and it was obviously embarrassing to all — particularly given that some library trustees had questioned whether the branch should be named after the Democratic politician in the first place.

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You know who would have been the first to laugh at that sign? Who would marvel that somebody could get Michael wrong instead of misspelling Busch (especially given there’s a really famous Bush family in politics)? That would be Michael E. Busch. Maryland’s longest serving House of Delegates speaker would have found it uproariously funny. He died one year ago at age 72 after a tough battle against cancer and liver disease. Yet through it all, a liver transplant and heart bypass surgeries included, the onetime gridiron star never seemed to lose his folksy, low-key charm. He didn’t rule the chamber with an iron fist, he governed through persuasion and consensus building. And laughter. A lot of laughter. Not uncommonly at his own expense.

Clearly, you can’t joke away serious illness. Laughter won’t pay the bills of the jobless. And it’s no cure for COVID-19. But it can soften grief, it can lighten the mood, it can blunt anxiety (although a nice little vigorous stroll around the block can help in that department as well, or so we hear). Humor is one of the best things going on social media — the goofy home videos, the popular songs rewritten to explain social distancing, even the cat pics, God help us. The jokes about liquor consumption, about wearing sweatpants every day or toilet paper shortages, about boredom and solitude and overeating? OK, some of them get a little old, but keep them coming, America. Sometimes, they really hit the mark.

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There are comedy films on Netflix and other outlets, of course. The late-night comedians are doing their best. And political humor continues to be a source of much attention on Facebook and Twitter. If that floats your boat, more power to you. But we’ve found some of the most reassuring laughter comes from gentle ribbing of our own circumstances, our own limitations, our own folly. Watching some Average Joe “mansplain” the struggles of distance learning to his unsympathetic spouse on YouTube is more likely to tickle our funny bone at the moment than a slick stand-up set performed months ago at a famous comedy club replayed on cable TV. Perhaps that’s because we need the connection as much as we need the laughter. Isolation will do that to you. Just another sign of how much the world has changed in a short period of time.

That’s why we at The Baltimore Sun Editorial Bored salute the Anne Arundel County Public Liberry System for giving us a little sight gag, intentional or not. We suspect it’s going to cost someone some money but it might well be worth it (assuming it’s not the taxpayer).

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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